On this episode of BackStory with Colby Colb, legendary radio host Colby ‘Colb’ Tyner chronicles the thriving Hip-Hop renaissance of the ‘90s—a time when Nas, the Wu-Tang Clan, Mary J. Blige, A Tribe Called Quest and Busta Rhymes, to name a few, were emerging on the scene representing East Coast Hip-Hop.’
This was the perfect environment for a young Christopher Wallace to break out on the scene. The young Biggie Smalls studied the Hip-Hop greats, growing up on Word Up! Magazine and listening to Rap Attack on the radio. His mother, Voletta Wallace, tells Colb that young Christopher excelled in English class. “So I wasn’t shocked that he was such a great writer,” she says.
Raised in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, bordering Bedford-Stuyvesant, young Christopher would pass the time between drug deals by performing verses on the street. In the video below, you can feel the undeniable presence that he had at just 17 years old, rapping on Fulton Street in Brooklyn.
In 1991, Christopher was arrested and jailed for cocaine in North Carolina. While behind bars, he focused on writing and dropped his first demo tape upon his release. Biggie Smalls was born.
DJ Mister Cee is credited with discovering the young rapper, after being introduced through his first DJ, DJ 50 Grand. Biggie soon caught the eye of a young Sean ‘Puff Daddy’ Combs, who was doing A&R for Uptown Records at the time. The two met up, and the rest is history.
Puff was the mastermind behind Biggie’s rise to fame. He was strategic in where he placed Biggie in features alongside artists like Super Cat, Mary J. Blige, and Craig Mack. Colb goes in-depth here, documenting in detail the progression of singles and collaborations that further propelled Biggie to stardom.
Biggie’s momentum continued to build upon the success of his song Party and Bullshit off the Who’s The Man? soundtrack in the spring of 1993. In this next video, Puff and Biggie perform at the OutKast picnic in Atlanta in 1994, just months prior to the release of Biggie’s iconic debut album Ready to Die.
Colb plays a clip from his first interview with Biggie in July of 1994, two months leading up to the release of Ready to Die. By this point, Biggie had changed his stage name to The Notorious B.I.G. due to a lawsuit filed against him by actor Calvin Lockhart, whose character in the 1975 film Let’s Do It Again inspired the rapper to adopt the name Biggie Smalls.
Two months after the release of Ready to Die, Biggie tells Colb in a second interview that the album was a chance to showcase another side to his artistry, a darker side, following the release of the mainstream hit Juicy, which told his life story and introduced The Notorious B.I.G. to the world.
Colb delves into the series of unfortunate events that caused the friction between Biggie and Tupac, and led to their untimely deaths. Tupac was making his mark on the West Coast Hip-Hop scene at the time. The two rappers were successful and thriving, yet the tension between them grew, fueling the rivalry between East Coast and West Coast Hip-Hop.
The iconic MCs were fatally shot within six months of each other, following one of the greatest years of Hip-Hop (1996), as Colb tells it. Their deaths sent shockwaves throughout the music world, but their impact on Hip-Hop lives on.
Listen to BackStory with Colby Colb: The Notorious B.I.G. for exclusive clips of Colb’s past interviews with Biggie Smalls, his mother Voletta Wallace, DJ Mister Cee and Craig Mack.
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